Focus on Rider Experience: The Way Forward

Written By Michael Flood I

t’s no secret that the school bus industry has been transforming over the past few decades. With developments in automated routing, advance-no- tification, rider tracking, video solutions, student

Wi-Fi, COVID-related health measures, and new electri- fication of fleets, school buses are asserting themselves as the valuable extension of the school and classroom we all know them to be. As the school transportation industry charges ahead

into a new future, one indelibly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be vital that school buses adapt to meet the changing dynamics of school bus ridership and the growing needs of students and families. One industry metric with which we should be obsessed with is elec- tive ridership. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics,

only 25 percent of students who live a short distance from school and only 50 percent of students who live a long distance from school choose to ride the school bus. Higher-income households more often use passenger vehicles, largely because of the increased availability. Increasing the share of students who choose to ride the bus—because the experience is better than other op- tions—will drive the next wave of industry growth and community support.

Reimagining the Ridership Experience In our increasingly connected world, opportunities to enhance the student ridership experience are bounded only by one’s imagination. From parent GPS bus tracker applications and video monitoring solutions to school bus Wi-Fi and climate control, a variety of technologies exist that can be harnessed to improve school transporta- tion for students, families and transportation staff alike. What are these rider-centric technologies, and what tangible benefits might they be able to provide your transportation department? Let’s explore a few.

School Bus Wi-Fi Historically, each K-12 student spends an average of 40 minutes per day on the school bus—amounting to 20 instructional days per academic year. School bus Wi-Fi solutions enable students to reclaim that time for learning. Through empowering riders to connect with their peers,

30 School Transportation News • SEPTEMBER 2021

complete online assignments, and check in with their teachers—all while on the bus—transportation departments can positively impact the academic success of their riders, a trend that will have ripple effects throughout the entire school community. Likewise, keeping students focused and on-task leads to fewer disciplinary incidents, calmer commutes, and more satisfied drivers. Our district partners often share the positive impacts

that this technology has for their students and staff. For example, Beekmantown Central School District in New York reported it saw positive changes in student atten- dance, student discipline, and student achievement within a year of onboarding with a Wi-Fi solution.

Parent Applications In an age when we can easily track the status of our pizza delivery, it is only natural that students and par- ents/guardians desire an enhanced level of visibility into the status of their assigned school bus. There are a host of robust applications on the mar-

ket today that enable these insights, and the number is ever-growing. Some simply provide updates on when school buses depart from the school, some offer GPS-enabled, real-time updates on bus location, and some even track individual students’ whereabouts while on the bus using wearable ID tags. Transportation departments looking to onboard with

a student ridership application will certainly need to ad- dress issues like student data privacy, stop changes, and parent-to-school communication protocols. The ease, reliability and peace of mind that this technology en- ables ensure that it will play a valuable role within school transportation systems for decades to come.

Comfort and Amenities While it may not be at the top of transportation leaders’

priority lists, it is beneficial to look at the comfort and amenities offered to student riders with a creative eye. Is there an opportunity to enhance seat comfort? Could

climate control be made available to students? Would in- stalling power ports in seats make an impact on students’ ability to get schoolwork done or keep their mobile device going so that they can communicate with their parents? Rethinking from the student perspective and imple-

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